Wednesday, August 6, 2014


The following is a brief selection from the first rough first draft of the beginning of Peter Quinones' upcoming (2016) book Catch The Nearest Way: Fragmentary Writings on The Macbeth Experience.       This material Copyright 2014 by Peter Quinones.

Virginia Woolf – according to Jonathan Bate in The Genius of Shakespeare – opined as such: “…the truest account of reading Shakespeare would be not to write a book with a beginning, middle, and end; but to collect notes without trying to make them consistent.”  This is very sage advice, and I will try to be faithful to the spirit of it here.
            Every so often in the news we see a report emanating from a third world nation – a captain, perhaps, or a colonel, sunglasses on, pistol on his hip, has stormed the palace with his junta and led a coup.  We should understand – his great capacity for poetry, eloquence, and introspection not withstanding, Macbeth is exactly this kind of thug.
            The amount of literature in existence about Macbeth is unmanageable for any individual.  I’m a novice.  I’ve done very little reading in the slatternly intermezzo we call Theory; one reason for this is what seems to me to be Brian Vickers’ utter demolition of it in Appropriating Shakespeare
            Most of my reading on the play has been in the type of criticism that I’ll call the High Lofty which, in my judgment, is just as dangerous for studying Shakespeare as Theory is.  Essentially Bardolatry on steroids, some of the notable practicioners have been Van Doren, Goddard, Hazlitt, Bloom, Bradley, Nuttall, etc. 
            The grandmaster of Shakespeare criticism is, in my inexpert view, Spurgeon.  I will return to her case for regarding Macbeth as a mean, cruel, and petty man way out of his depth a little bit later on.
            My overall view is that, like it or not, in this day and age the most profitable way to get a handle on Shakespeare is to view the many different presentations of a given play that are available on film in conjunction with as much  primary and secondary reading as one cares to do.  Of course, we know that down through the ages numerous critics have taken the position that Shakespeare is primarily for reading, not for performance.  Granted, many of these critics mainly had the theater in mind, but we can comfortably assume that they would hold the same opinion of the cinema.  (As an example of this sort of belief, Goddard writes somewhat contemptuously of “some obliterating actress” playing Rosalind in As You Like It and why the “imaginative man” always prefers to read the play rather than see it.  Lord!)
            This belief is most unfortunate.  I say this because one can be the most profound, insightful reader in the history of the Milky Way galaxy and still not be able to intellectualize and visualize with more profit than one can get from a viewing a few different cinematic interpretations of a play and comparing them against each other and against Shakespeare’s words.
            Here are two examples, both from offerings of the Scottish play, of the enormous power of the cinema in articulating Shakespeare:
1)      In Casson’s 1978 film featuring the Royal Shakespeare Company, the early scenes show one of the three witches broken out in an intense feverish sweat, barely able to walk or speak.  She is quite noticeably in this condition; the other two are not.  Much later on – most graphically during the “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow” sequence – McKellen is shown in the same state of heated physical fervor.  The visual implication is unmistakable: the same possessing spirit that gripped her body is now gripping his.  Whether or not we feel this to be a legitimate interpretation of Shakespeare’s writing is beside the point, which is that it would be extremely unlikely for this impression to be gotten solely from reading.
2)      In Jack Gold’s film for the BBC series in the early 1980s the sky, in the scene in which Duncan, Banquo and others arrive at Inverness, is lit a brilliant and intense orange behind them.  The gate of the castle stands opened, and the bars of it, sharpened at the ends like swords or spikes, are filmed in the foreground in such a way that they appear to be coming down right on the heads of Banquo and Duncan.  This visual evocation of danger and betrayal anthropomorphizes the castle in a way I don’t think reading alone ever could. 

            Yet, obviously, reading the plays allows us to compare them with each other, and thus get a sense of Shakespeare as a whole, in a way that viewing films cannot.  Nuttall makes an important point in both A New Mimesis and Shakespeare the Thinker that Shakespeare often recycles but never merely repeats himself.
             As an example, take some lines from Macbeth that could just as easily have been in Othello – “There’s no art to find the mind’s construction in the face” and “False face must hide what the false heart doth know”.  Someone with a full command of all the plays, I’m sure, could fill many many pages with examples of such criss crossing.  I’m a novice, similar to Colin Wilson with The Outsider.
            What is Macbeth about?  A small sample of thoughts from The Big Lofty will give us some ideas of what some have thought. 
            Goddard actually claims that the knocking scene is “a poetical effect beyond the capacity of the stage” and that no actor can possibly properly capture the intended effect of the line “This is the door” that Macbeth utters to Macduff after the murder of Duncan.  This is all to be tied in with an alleged voice from “the bottom of the universe”. 
            In his introduction to a Pelican edition of the play Harbage writes that Shakespeare at his sharpest can push up against the boundaries of what is expressible in words and that “Some of the speeches seem to express the agony of all mankind.”  In an introduction to a Signet edition Barnet writes that “When one sees or reads Macbeth one cannot help feeling that one is experiencing a re-creation of what man is, in the present, even in the timeless.”  Bloom makes the astounding statement that “Shakespeare rather dreadfully sees to it that we are Macbeth, our identity with him is involuntary but inescapable.”  And so forth. 
            All these are outrageous, unprovable sorts of claims that are characteristic of The Grand Lofty.  Elaborate metaphysical speculation might make our spirits soar for a while, but in my estimation we do well to be perhaps a bit more grounded.  What do the characters in the play actually do?  What is the genesis of their activity?  What they do in large measure is deliver and receive messages, news bulletins and reports which, in the main, recipients do not question the veracity of and which, in the main, contain true and accurate information.  Indeed, the words “report” and “news” and their synonyms appear quite often in the play.
Below I present twenty examples from the drama to support my observation and comment briefly.
             Act 1, Scene 2 - Here the bloody man delivers a report – and Duncan actually says “He can report” – about Macbeth’s bravery and courage. 
            A word about this – Duncan seems to be excessively trusting.  Perhaps this is why he is habitually betrayed by people like Cawdor and Macbeth.  It seems a trifle odd to me that, for instance, he is relying on the contingency of a chance, accidental meeting with a wounded soldier for information about how his own army is performing.  Wouldn’t the king have an extensive network of spies and scouts?  (As Macbeth himself is shown to have once he becomes king.)
            Act 1, Scene 2 – Ross arrives to report of Macbeth’s bravery versus Norway.  Again, Duncan appears to be relying on complete happenstance for this important information.  He doesn’t even recognize Ross, one of his own thanes!
            Act 1, Scene 3 – Here the three witches report to each other.  Largely irrelevant.
            Act 1, Scene 4 – Here Malcolm brings news to Duncan of Cawdor’s execution.  The scene is important because it stresses Duncan’s na├»ve consciousness.  He mentions his “absolute trust” in Cawdor – he is about to place the same in Macbeth, with a worse result. 
            Act 1, Scene 5 – Macbeth’s letter to Lady Macbeth fills her in on the prophecies of the witches and their subsequent coming true.  It’s important to note that the witches’ predictions early on are given full credence while, further on, the importance of their later ones is perhaps not fully appreciated by Macbeth.
            Act 1, Scene 5 – The servant brings Lady Macbeth the news that Duncan will visit that night.  Notice that in this brief conversation both “tidings” and “news” appear, thus strengthening the theme.
            Act 1, Scene 7 - “How now!  What news?”
            Act 2, Scene 2 – Macbeth reports to Lady Macbeth the killing of Duncan
            Act 3, Scene 1 – Macbeth reveals (to the audience) through his dialogue with the hired murderers that he has reported news of Banquo’s wrongdoings against the murderers to them, the murderers.  This is the one place where we might wonder if the news report in question is true or not.  It may not be – Banquo does not appear to have been the type for malicious foul play. 
            Act 3, Scene 4 – The Murderer brings the news of Banquo’s killing and Fleance’s escape to Macbeth.
            Act 3, Scene 6 – The unnamed LORD reports to Lennox that Malcolm and Macduff are in England seeking the aid of Edward.
            Act 4, Scene 1 – The apparitions deliver predictions which we may consider news by this point in the play, though I acknowledge this characterization might be questioned.
            Act 4, Scene 1 – Lennox reports to Macbeth that Macduff has fled to England.
            Act 4, Scene 2 - The messenger arrives to advise Lady Macduff to flee.
            Act 4, Scene 3 – Ross brings Macduff the dreadful news.
            Act 5, Scene 2 – Caithness provides Mentieth will military intelligence.
            Act 5, Scene 3 – “Bring me no more reports.”
            Act 5, Scene 5 - Seyton gives the news of Lady Macbeth’s death.
            Act 5, Scene 5 – The messenger reports that Birnam Wood is moving.
            Act 5, Scene 8 – Macduff gives the news that he is not of woman born!

            Thusly, twenty instances of the motif.  This is evidently a world in which delivered messages count for much – or, to be more accurate, at least a play in which they do.   It would be well beyond the scope of my knowledge or expertise about medieval Scotland to state categorically that “This society functioned in large measure on the backs of messengers” although such a statement is probably a good guess. 
It is also a likely good guess that much more could be learned about this play from an intensive study of the available literature on the psychology of dictators rather than wanton High Romantic Bardolatry about “unseen forces that shape our lives” or some New Historicist wish fulfillment about the tenets of Elizabethan society or, gulp, Parisian effluvia.  I grant you that very few people who are interested in imaginative literature (let’s cling stubbornly to the term) either as a career or a hobby are going to want to put in the time and effort required to slough through much technical work on said psychology, but I would not hesitate to bet that a careful study of the life, say, of Pol Pot or Saddam Hussein would reveal quite a few dispositions to behavior similar to those of Macbeth.  (Goddard, to his credit, recognizes the applicability of parts of the play to twentieth century dictators.  So does Mary McCarthy in her essay.  Rupert Goold sets his film, about which I will have much to say, upon this very idea as a basic operating principle.)  If there is any kind of universalism to be found in literature it is in comparative research such as this. 
Another important topic to be given attention in the overall study of Macbeth should be, I venture, the psychology of ambition.  George H.W. Bush was once asked why he wanted to be President of the United States.  His answer was “For the honor of it all.”  This seems to me to be exactly the kind of ambition the Macbeths exhibit, a kind of directionless, ambiguous desire for glory – holding a position just for the sake of holding it, with no higher or more dignified purpose -which is fine, given that there are probably very few of us who could articulate the meaningful goals behind our ambitions at a moment’s notice.  And again, I understand that there are most likely not a lot of people who work in the humanities who are going to be inclined to do reading of this sort (I mean technical research in clinical psychology) , and we probably don’t have enough information on the Macbeths’ background, their lives before the play, to definitively state the motivation for their ambition to be king and queen, but it’s fairly clear to me that this desire is entirely selfish and comparatively shallow and superficial, not unlike the desire of Kim Kardashian or Paris Hilton to be celebrities.  Scream if you want, but show me the differences based on the available literature about the research. 
            In The Mystery of Macbeth Amneus, despite some rather tortured arguments about various subjects, make the golden observation that when Shakespeare hits upon a narrative problem he often simply ignores it and hopes the audience doesn’t catch it, or else he resorts to poetry.  In Macbeth there are two giant problems of this nature.  In his film Roman Polanski actually comes up with a logical, though perhaps unintentional, solution to one of these.
            The problem is as follows.  Early in the play Macbeth and Banquo, on their way to Forres, stumble upon the witches on the blasted heath.  The witches ambush them, speak for a short while, and then vanish into the air.  Later, Macbeth wishes to consult with them a second time.  How does he know where to find them?  I may be wrong, and I apologize if I am, but as far as I can see Shakespeare doesn’t tell us how Macbeth knows where they are.  The fact that he does find them is a glaring example of plot contrivance.  Polanski gets around this by having Macbeth and Banquo stumble upon the witches’ lair on the trek to Forres – they actually see where the witches “live”.  (Amusingly, one of the witches is brushing another’s hair as Macbeth and Banquo approach.)  Now, it is necessary for Polanski to show us the lair due to the little twist he throws in in the last seconds of his film, but it solves the earlier problem nonetheless – Macbeth is given a landmark with which to work.
            Here’s a second problem of the narrative: Macbeth and Lady Macbeth plot to kill Duncan so that Macbeth may ascend to throne.  However, Macbeth is not properly the next in line – Malcolm is.  Yet, in the course of their planning, the Macbeths make no provisions whatsoever for this inconvenience. They simply plow forward as though Macbeth is the rightful successor to Duncan.  Of course, Malcolm flees and so the point as a matter of practicality is made moot, but this is just a happy coincidence.  How might the play be different if, upon hearing of his father’s death, Malcolm had said “Well, let’s start making the arrangements for my coronation right after dad’s funeral”?

            Act 1, Scene 1, of course establishes the eerie tone of the play.  As happens in almost all celluloid Shakespeare, Polanski cuts the original text to ribbons in order to suit his purposes. 
            “I come, Graymalkin.”  “Paddock calls.”  “Anon.”  To a diehard purist the cutting of these lines may represent a cardinal sin; to someone acquainted with, but not totally obsessed by, the play it may or may not even be noticed; and to someone counting this film as their first exposure to Macbeth it obviously won’t matter very much at all.  Polanski not only cuts the dialogue - he rearranges it and moves it around in spots as well. Here, the first words the witches speak in this scene are “Fair is foul…” etc., which in the scene as Shakespeare wrote it are the last words they say.  It’s not an effective choice.  The difference between having a character ask the question “When shall we three meet again?” as the leadoff speech on the one hand and having three characters chant a slogan in unison on the other is actually monumental.  In the first case we might immediately think things like, Oh, they meet regularly.  Oh, their preferred meeting conditions are thunder, lightning and rain and not pleasant beach days that are eighty degrees and sunny.  Oh, I wonder why they meet anyway, and so on.  Hearing them chant a song doesn’t produce this kind of reaction.  Shakespeare’s original order is much more effective.
            That said, the opening shots of a beach locale changing colors – first red, then brownish-gray, then blue, with seagulls singing overhead, establish the undeniable visual beauty of the film that Polanksi and his cinematographer Gil Taylor maintain throughout.  The three weird ones walk into the frame from the left, pushing a little cart along in the sand.  They stop, kneel, dig in the sand, and bury a severed human hand with a dagger positioned in it, as well as a noose, in the cool wet earth.  They quickly make a little grave out of this, pouring potions over it and spitting.  The few lines of dialogue are spoken by only two; the youngest, most “attractive” one doesn’t speak at all (she is the one who later flashes her female parts at Macbeth and Banquo after the first prophecies are delivered).  Here they speak calmly, conversationally, almost casually, something they do not do in the other three films I am going to discuss here.  The wheels of their cart squeak as they go off down the shoreline, and then the screen goes blank as the credits begin to roll against the background noise of the battle where Macbeth unseams Macdonwald. 
            It isn’t easy for me to assess whether or not this clip establishes the mood Shakespeare had in mind for this opening scene.  (Also, we must never forget the personal circumstances under which Polanski was making this film.) 
            In Shakespeare Van Doren wrote “Darkness prevails because the witches, whom Banquo calls its instruments, have willed to produce it.  But Macbeth is its instrument too, as well as its victim.  And the weird sisters no less than he are instruments of an evil that employs them both and has roots running further into darkness than the mind can guess.”    Employs them for what purpose?  To kill Duncan?  Is it that evil employs the sisters to kill Duncan and they subcontract the work out to Macbeth?  Or is just that evil desires to produce random general mayhem with no specific targets?  What is this evil, anyway?  What kind of ontological status does it have?  What kind of existent is it?
            A final observation on this section – Polanski is a strong filmmaker with a very recognizable style, much like Kubrick or Antonioni.  Therefore a serious student is going to want to refer not only to Shakespeare but also to earlier films of this director such as Knife in the Water and Rosemary’s Baby for reference.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Macbeth - Royal Shakespeare Company 1978

MACBETH (Royal Shakespeare Company, 1978)

            I’ve considered a couple of other adaptations of Macbeth that are available on DVD here on this blog – the 2009 PBS production, the 1987 BBC one – in some level of detail, and have not ventured much into some other well known efforts such as Orson Welles’ (which is in my view guilty of editing Shakespeare beyond justification, a deed that works in the director’s Othello because of the great beauty of the film, but not here), Roman Polanksi’s (which I will  have some things to say about, eventually) and Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood.  Of these major DVDs of the play I suppose this 1978 offering, directed by Philip Casson and produced by Trevor Nunn, is the most theater like – and perhaps nothing can bring out the differences between film and theater, and the relative strengths and weaknesses of both, like Shakespeare can.  This RSC effort requires, and deserves, several careful viewings.  Nuance is the order of the day, from a heavily Christianized Duncan to a Macduff who (silently) assumes the role of chief caretaker and bodyguard to Duncan.
            Here are some observations, by no means exhaustive.

  1. An overhead shot of the playing space begins the film.
  2. The actors appear on stage and take seats in a circular arrangement.  The same church music, on organ, that will play when Macbeth is crowned plays on the soundtrack.  Defining the space this way helps establish boundaries and perspective for the viewer.
  3. The weird sisters emerge from different parts of the circle and join together, chanting and moaning.
  4. Simultaneously Duncan, his sons, and a few lords pray in an indentifiably Christian way.  Notice that Macduff stands with his arms folded while the others pray.  Duncan wears a large cross around his neck and blesses himself with the sign of the cross.  Director Philip Casson in this way makes a comment about ceremony and ritual, clashing Duncan’s Christianity against the witches’ paganism and occult activities.
  5. “What bloody man is that?” 
  6. Greeting Ross.
  7. A truly fascinating take on the scene, and one that helps upset A.C. Bradley type views that Shakespeare exists mainly on the page.  Duncan gives the instruction to tell Macbeth he is now Thane of Cawdor.  Most directors show this as Duncan speaking directly to Ross, however he is speaking the order to Malcolm, who is visibly shaken.  Malcolm hesitates and stammers; Ross gently touches him on the arm and comfortingly says, “I’ll see it done.” A bravura visual reading of the written scene.
  8. Macbeth and Banquo come upon the witches.  This is a powerful Macbeth-Banquo pairing that other productions seem to lack.  McKellen and Woodvine are perfect together in the roles.  The chemistry of a loose, edgy Macbeth with the much more dignified Banquo is stunning.
  9. “Two truths are told…”
  10. “Look how our partner’s rapt.”  The word “rapt” appears often in the early scenes.
  11. The Prince of Cumberland scene is about the only one in which the dark, ominous tone of shadow is replaced with brightness, most especially in the form of Duncan’s robe and the crown.  Notice the light shining on Malcolm but not on Duncan or Macbeth.
  12. She reads the letter and starts in with her “milk of human kindness” fretting.  Dench is much stronger in the role in every other scene than she is in this one.  The circular twirls and the little “Oh!” she throws in don’t seem to me to quite fit.
  13. The lighting of her face is sensational.  Awesome cinematography.
  14. “Our gentle senses.”  Duncan exudes more cluelessness.
  15. “If it were done when tis done…” Professor Peter Saccio, giant of Shakespeare study, says this is the best performance of this passage that he has seen.
  16. Notice the difference in perspective in this shot-reverse shot framing.
  17. “How goes the night, boy?”  Banquo in silhouette.
  18. Off to kill Duncan with his sleeve rolled up.
  19. The Porter scene in this film is quite funny because of the camera movements.  A great touch of humor!
  20. “Thou hast it all now…” Banquo on the cusp.
  21. “Have you considered of my speeches?” Was Banquo really the enemy of these men, or is Macbeth just stirring up trouble?
  22. The best of the cutthroats. 
  23. With the witches a second time.  They use dolls, candles, and tattoos,  again pointing up the ceremonial, ritualistic nature of their practice.
  24. The Macduffs.  A problem – Lady Macduff is too easily identifiable as one of the three witches.  This playing of multiple is true of a few of the cast members.  I understand all the reasons for it, but in the cinema it is problematic.
  25. Malcolm and Macduff plot the attack.
  26. Sleepwalking grief.  “Who would have thought the old man to have so much blood in him?”
  27. One of the weird sisters’ dolls – Macbeth keeps it with him.
  28. A break with the heretofore strictly kept “filmed play” aesthetic.
  29. “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow…” McKellen is presented in a perspiring, fever like manner.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Macbeth (BBC, 1987)

            I think that, generally speaking, two things are required to lift a low budget production to greatness – a great script and a recognition on the part of the director that they have to use every means available to them – cutting, framing, acting, music, set design, the dexterity of the camera – to bring the script to life.  One example of this is the 1987 version of Macbeth directed by Jack Gold and starring Nicol Williamson and Jane Lapotaire in the principal roles.
            Let me say – A.C. Bradley, and critics who follow him, take the opinion that Shakespeare, like the novel, is principally a reading experience, more or less to be appreciated on the page.  On this view, staged, the plays are of less interest. I must energetically disagree.  As this production shows, a film can illuminate Shakespeare in incredible ways.  In this filmed version there is so much visual information serving as clarifying commentary that it is virtually impossible to take it all in even after four or five viewings. 
            Some examples – the actors cast as Macduff and Banquo – Ian Hogg and Tony Doyle – are look alikes; the gate at Inverness is used as a symbol, and in one scene the spiked bars on it are framed as a spear coming down on Duncan’s head; as Macbeth, Nicol Williamson employs three or four different voices in an effort to communicate depth psychology (one of the voices, unfortunately, sounds like Linda Blair playing the possessed girl in The Exorcist); the excellent, moody music by Carl Davis is often perfectly matched to the action on the screen in the manner of the old Hollywood studio assembly line films; a tall, prominently displayed Fleance in scenes and ways we usually do not see;  the blazing red sky behind Duncan as he asks “What bloody man is that?” and the wild, vivid orange sky behind him and the others as they arrive at Macbeth’s castle: Jane Lapotaire’s sexually charged interpretation of the “Come, you spirits” scene;  the way that Macbeth’s castle Inverness is shown with no coherent sense, just a place of cold and dark geometry, while the castle where Malcolm and Macduff have their famous scene towards the end is an inviting place of pleasant blue sky and white stone; and I could go on and on.  I guess what I mean to say is that this is a visual MACBETH aimed at an audience that is familiar  with the play already.  It might not be the best version of the work for novices. 
            Here, in the center of this piece, we’ll look at a very few scenes (merely twenty snippets from approximately the first one sixth of the presentation or so) for some visual spice and then continue after that with some more reflection.

The three witches contort, face down, on a slab of rock amidst thunder and lightning.

“What bloody man is that?”

Malcolm implores the bloody man to give his knowledge of the broil. 

The bloody captain – “And well he deserves that name”

Macduff, usually not seen until much later, is here with Duncan on the far left

Banquo and Macbeth first encounter the witches. 

Macbeth and Banquo – Macbeth makes exaggerated, startled double takes roward Banquo during the predictions.

 During Ross’ news that Macbeth is now Thane of Cawdor. 

Brilliant – the camera starts on Macbeth’s face in isolation and slowly pans left until we can see the others in the background.

Banquo thinking as he and Macbeth kneel before Duncan.

A closeup of Banquo as everyone leaves for the meal at Inverness on the fateful night when Macbeth kills Duncan.  You can practically hear the wheels of his mind turning.

Lady Macbeth framed between two spikes.

“Too full of the milk of human kindness…”

Lapotaire plays the scene, and thus establishes the character, in a very sexual way.  Even more astonishing, then, that she would give up her sexuality (“Unsex me here”) for ambition.


“We will speak further.”

Brilliant framing – the spikes on the castle gate look like spears descending on Banquo and Duncan.

A brilliant orange sky at the gate of Inverness.

Fleance is stressed, as he will be at the very end of the film.

            Gold’s proficiency with the camera and the lining up of shots, as well as his obvious knowledge of Shakespeare (this is not the only BBC Shakespeare series he did), are paramount here.  So are the set designs by Jerry Scott, and I’d call attention to four of these in particular.  The blood red sky behind Duncan and entourage in the “What bloody man is that?” scene; the bright orange sky behind the same group as they arrive at Inverness; the cold, dark, formless look of the interior of Inverness; and the light blue sky and bright white stone of the castle where Malcolm and Macduff meet near the end of the play.  All these visual cues are excellent and thought provoking.
            There’s also some interesting degree of emphasis on Banquo here.  I’ve already mentioned his visible thought process during Duncan’s talk, but the scene that begins “Thou hast it now…” is also brilliantly done here, with Banquo upfront, addressing the camera as though it were an aside, and Macbeth, Lady Macbeth, and members of the court behind him.  Too, Fleance is very prominent in early scenes, and it is a stroke of genius and interpretation to have him stand by Macbeth’s slain body - the very last  image of the production. 
            There is so much else: the last time we see Duncan alive is at the dinner table, the camera closing in on his kind, gentle countenance.  At a particularly tense moment we see Macbeth’s hands behind his back, nervously twitching.  The three witches, silent and unseen, are on hand to witness Macduff leave for Fife the morning after Duncan’s murder.  I don’t know if, in a filmed presentation, having the ghost of Banquo be represented by an empty chair is the most effective way to stage the scene but Williamson and Lapotaire ace that decision here.  The thrones – hers noticeably smaller, indicating a degree of attention in the furniture making – shown empty at the top of a staircase adorned in a brilliant red carpet, are another beautiful touch.  And the high angle shots from behind Macbeth as he sits on the throne (in one scene with the murderers he hires to off Banquo, in another with the messenger who brings the news that the forest is moving), while being an antiquated cinematic tactic, ring effectively here.  And Carl Davis’ powerful music cannot be overlooked amidst all the powerful visuals.
            Finally we might make a quick observation about Jane Lapotaire’s portrayal of Lady Macbeth, which is sexually explosive from the get go – she whispers “Come, you spirits”, caresses herself, and is almost seducing and beckoning the spirits, making sexual moans while she says “Hold!  Hold!” A most interesting decoding of the role.

            All in all: a truly top notch rendering of the play, even an eye opening one in places.